NYC’s Proposed New Facade Inspection Rules May Increase Costs for Co-op and Condo Owners

While not yet finalized, New York City’s Department of Buildings plans to release a stricter set of requirements for its Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP, also known as Local Law 11), for the 9th Cycle of the law, which begins in February 2020.

These safety regulations address the condition of the facade, balconies, architectural details, etc. of every building over six stories tall. Should the proposed changes take effect, building owners can expect the scope of work and the cost of Local Law 11 inspections to increase significantly. Proposed changes include:

• More comprehensive facade examinations and more detailed reports
• Rather than the single scaffold drop currently required, the new regulations will require scaffold drops every 60 feet on each exterior wall fronting the street or any other area where the public may walk

• Probes will be required on cavity walls to ensure the safety of areas behind the facade
• Qualified Exterior Wall Inspectors (QEWI’s) must now have three years of relevant experience with buildings over six stories, rather than one, as in the past, as well as relevant experience and knowledge of NYC building codes and facade rules

• Building owners will be required to post the building’s facade condition certificate in the lobby in a manner similar to elevator certificates

Once the property has been inspected, the QEWI must submit a report rating the facade as Safe, Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program, or Unsafe. If Unsafe conditions exist, the property must immediately install a sidewalk shed to protect the public walking past, and correct the problem within 90 days.

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The next cycle of NYC’s Local Law 11, or Facade Safety Inspection Program, begins in February, with stricter, more costly, requirements for inspecting building facades.

Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP) Filing Deadline: February 21

As part of the City’s façade maintenance regulations, all properties over six and half stories must be inspected every five years and file a report with the New York City Department of Buildings on a set deadline schedule. The current looming deadline is February 21. All buildings whose block number ends in 4, 5, 6, or 9 (sub-cycle A properties) are facing this deadline.

In an effort to streamline the process, the City has created an online portal (nyc.gov/dobnow) through which Qualified External Wall Inspectors (QEWIs), property owners, Registered Architects and Professional Engineers can register to submit applications, make payments, check a building’s inspection status, and print or download reports.

At a recent seminar at Douglas Elliman Property Management (DEPM), Principals Craig Tooman and Dan Allen, and Senior Project Manager Frank Scanlon of CTA Architects presented a walk-through of this complex process to help property managers navigate the new online system.

“We’re a dense urban environment and it’s really our job, together, to keep it safe,” CTA Principal Dan Allen reminded the audience, referring back to the incident in 1979 when a Columbia University student was fatally struck by a piece of falling material from a façade. It was this tragic death that led to the City’s Local Law 10/80 façade inspection regulations, and the subsequent updates that have followed since—including LL 11/98, LL 38/07, FISP, and the 2013 Railing Memo. In addition, all balcony enclosures must have permits filed with the City.

Once the inspections have been made, each property’s façade will be classified in one of three categories: Safe; Safe With a Repair and Maintenance Program (SWARMP); or Unsafe. Facades that are SWARMP must be repaired within a specified time frame, and the file must be updated online. Unsafe facades must be immediately covered or a sidewalk shed or construction fence must be erected to protect the public from dangerous conditions.

“We’re getting a lot of people calling us up frantically asking us to get their A buildings filed, and we’re telling them to get to us as soon as possible because board presidents need to sign in and sign up,” explained CTA Principal Craig Tooman.

CTA Senior Project Manager Frank Scanlon walked managers through the online process of creating an account at the DOB NOW website, and navigating their way through the process. Only an officer of the co-op or condo board, or an authorized manager can create the online account and sign off on the accuracy of the information.

Failure to comply with any of these regulations, or to meet filing deadlines, can result in fines and/or penalties, so check with your property manager to be sure that your building is in compliance with all DOB regulations. The complete “DOB NOW: Safety Facades Compliance Filing Owners User Manual” can be viewed or downloaded at bit.ly/DOBNOWmanual.

CTA Architects PC is 30-year-old Manhattan-based architectural firm specializing in new design, restoration, rehabilitation, interior design, affordable housing and historic preservation. They can be reached at ctaarchitects.com or 212-243-7404.

Founded in 1911, Douglas Elliman Property Management is one of the oldest, largest and most respected firms in New York, providing clients with the volume discounts only a large firm can offer, combined with personalized service and attention to detail. For more information about DEPM, visit ellimanpm.com or call 212-370-9200.